Do you think about being involved in a shooting? Do you carry a firearm? If you possess a gun, you may find yourself in a situation that forces you to shoot someone. It can happen to anyone at any time. A shooting is a dark reality few investigators consider beyond their weapons training. No one “wants” to be involved in a shooting, but you have to prepare for it.
Many professional investigators take the initiative to develop their self-defense skills. They may choose to train in the martial arts or other open hand combat styles. Some buy a handgun with the thought of “leveling the playing field.” Others combine both approaches for a complete sense of personal safety. My point is, you invest time and money into preparing for the event you pray will never happen. But, are you thinking about what you need to do after the shooting?
I am confident you have thought long and hard about what would cause you to draw and fire your handgun. Often less thought is given to what you will do after doing so? Think about it! You bought a gun for personal protection. You faced a life or death decision and used your weapon successfully. Now, what do you do? Have you considered the strong possibility you will face criminal charges as a result of the shooting? What have you done to prepare for that possibility?
Most law-abiding professionals involved in a shooting were protecting their own lives. They’re confident they did nothing wrong, and they have nothing to hide. This belief leads them to cooperate with everyone. From the 911 operator to the first responding officers, and finally the detectives. You know, the person responsible for conducting the follow-up investigation. Because they’re confident they did the right thing, they try to answer every question to the best of their ability. Every question posed by every individual no matter how many times it has been asked.
During their interview, they realize they aren’t sure about the answer to some of the questions the investigator is asking. As a result, they begin thinking “Why can’t I remember?” More importantly, they may begin thinking, “I have seen the police shows on television. I know that when someone says I’m not sure, they are stalling to make something up.” So, the professional pressures himself/herself into finding the answers to the questions. Consequently, they unknowingly force their minds to fill in the blanks.
Most noteworthy is the fact they do not understand what is happening. Let’s stop right here and talk about what the professional is experiencing. Following a high-stress traumatic event, like a shooting, you’re going to undergo psychological and physiological responses that are beyond your control. These responses may impact your memory and physical well-being.
It is not uncommon for people to experience a variety of post-event issues. A few examples of what may happen, include critical stress amnesia, perceptual distortions, or even passing out. The point is, your body and mind were just traumatized. You need time to “pull yourself together.” Now is not the time to be answering questions. It may take several days for you to remember what happened and some people may never remember everything. Just like you were trained to accept the potential outcome of this life or death situation; you now have to admit you need help. Assistance needed may include physically, mentally, emotionally, and even legally.
I want to focus on your immediate needs following the shooting. First of all, let me make it very clear that the goal is to cooperate with the investigation of the shooting. Therefore, I am breaking it down into smaller steps for you to consider and include in your mental preparation training.
The 911 Call Following the Shooting
Call 911 as soon as it is safe to do so, or get a bystander to do it for you. It may sound odd, but more often than not the first person to call 911 is considered the complainant. Therefore, if your not first you may be viewed as the subject (the aggressor). Remember, 911 calls are recorded and admissible in court. Consequently, what you say can be heard by a jury.
The recording can be a good thing, or a bad thing, depending on what you say and how you say it. The best part of the 911 call recording is the listener will hear directly from you following the shooting. In other words, your statements will not be filtered in any way, other than through the minds of the listeners.
Provide the 911 operator with your name and location. Explain you were attacked and forced to defend yourself. You know this person did something that caused you to fear for your life or the life of another. Therefore, I strongly recommend you provide this information to the 911 operator. For example, my name is John Doe. I am at the First Savings Bank, on the corner of Some Street and Nowhere Avenue. A man just attacked me. I thought he was going to kill me. I was afraid for my life, and I had to defend myself.
You also want to make sure they know to send the paramedics to your location. They will need to treat the person who forced you to defend yourself, but they will also need to examine you. I strongly recommend you go to the hospital for a complete examination. Even if you do not have any outwardly showing injuries, you may experience physiological responses that may endanger your well-being.
First Officer on the Shooting Scene
When the police arrive, tell the first responding officer who you are and that you were the one who called 911. Allow the officer to take possession of your firearm safely. DO NOT draw the weapon from its holstered or stored position to give it to the officer. Instead, tell them where the gun is and allow them to get it. I recommend you also provide any other relevant information you feel will help them secure the scene. Most noteworthy would be providing the location of the weapon your attacker had, if applicable.
Provide the officer with your personal information (name, address, phone number, etc.). Briefly describe what happened. Explain the individual attacked you and you were in fear for your life. Explain your attacker forced you to defend yourself. Once you have provided this information to the officer, tell them you want to be checked out by the paramedics, if this is not already taking place.
It is also essential for you to provide the first responding officer with any information that will show your innocence. This includes the identity and location of any evidence and witnesses to the incident, if known. Do not presume they will automatically know what to look for or who to talk too. Therefore, you should provide this information to the officer.
Assert Your Right to Remain Silent
The time has come to stop talking. As distasteful as this may sound, request the representation of an attorney before you answer any more questions or make any more statements. You can tell the officer, “I want to cooperate, but I want to have my attorney present before I say anything else.” You are asserting your right to remain silent and should stop the officer from continuing to question you. If they continue to question you, make it very clear to them by saying, “I am asserting my right to remain silent, as well as my right to counsel.”
Do not discuss the incident again until you have been medically cleared and had the opportunity to speak with a reputable attorney. Do not think of this as “not cooperating.” It is purely to ensure that you give yourself the time you need to recover mentally and physically from the high-stress event you just experienced. Remember, you may not remember everything that happened right away, and you do not want to create an issue where one does not exist. I also strongly recommended you do not discuss the incident with anyone outside of your legal team or mental health provider.
Due to the incident involving a shooting, it is not uncommon for the agency to dispatch a detective to the scene. Once the investigator arrives, they will want to discuss what happened. They will ask you the same or similar questions the first responding officer asked. Explain you already provided the first officer with the answers to these questions. Tell the investigator you will not be answering any more questions until you have had the opportunity to speak with an attorney.
Remember, you were able to save your own life or the life of another. Do not place it in harm’s way, because you want them to see you as being cooperative. Law enforcement has a job to do following the incident, and you will not be hindering it by taking the time you need to ensure your physical and emotional well-being. The truth is, if you asked a police officer if he or she would give a statement immediately following the use of deadly force, they would answer with a resounding, “NO.” Why should you?